Divorce, fragile gender roles, frigid climes and descents into madness all figure prominently in this year's top 10 list; thank heavens for Lego bricks and talking trees! Here are 10 films you should have seen this year:
The 12-year odyssey of Richard Linklater's Boyhood is an exercise in filmmaking patience, not to mention a serious gamble (what if one of the actors got sick, backed out?). But Linklater is to be commended for more than just his perseverance; the story of how Mason (Ellar Coltrane) navigates coming-of-age as the son of divorced parents (Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette) flows naturally and is remarkably seamless. Coltrane even looks a bit like Hawke by film's end. The year's quietest movie turns out to be one of its most powerful ones.
2. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Michael Keaton is brilliant as Riggan Thomson, a former movie superhero who tries to revive his career by writing, acting, directing, and ponying up the money for a Broadway play that seems doomed from the start. When he's not dealing with his demanding star, his suicidal daughter, his panicky agent and his ex-wife (Edward
Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan), Riggan is fighting off the gravel-voiced directives from his old character, Birdman, who won't let the glory days die. The camera is an interloper to these very talky, delightfully clever proceedings, following characters around to all the theatre's nooks and crannies, glimpsing them at their most vulnerable.
The scariest movie of the year may have been The Babadook (see below) but the most intense was Whiplash, the story about a mentor-musician relationship perverted by power and ego. Andrew (Miles Teller) is a freshman at the most prestigious music school in the country, who idolizes Buddy Rich and wants to be one of the greats. Instructor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, a lock for Oscar) is the sadistic instructor who cajoles and debases his students - who isn't happy until there's blood on the drum kit - all in the name of cultivating greatness.
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
It's weird, it's colourful, it's wonderful: The Grand Budapest Hotel, from out-of-the-box impresario Wes Anderson, tells the story of a fading European hotel and the intrigue brought about by concierge Monsieur Gustave's (Edward Norton) liaison with an elderly guest (Tilda Swinton). Ever-loyal junior lobby boy Zero (Anthony Quinonez) never leaves his side. The production design is akin to an ultra-strange and candy-coloured children's book, populated by a ridiculously impressive cast.
Every black and white shot in Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida is like an exquisitely lighted portrait; the imagery here often says more than words can express. A young woman raised in a Polish orphanage during the Nazi occupation learns the truth about her history just a week before she is to take her vows. The revelation could change everything. It's a mystery, a rumination on loss and lineage and the infallibility of faith. The film stands on the strength of its principal actors, Agata Kulesza and Agata Trzebuchowska.
6. The Babadook
Written and directed by Australian Jennifer Kent in her feature debut, The Babadook is the scariest film in years. Kent's story of a sleep-deprived single mom (Essie Davis), her troubled son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and the monster they unknowingly conjure from a children's book circumnavigates many horror movie clichÃ©s while presenting a real-world portrait of trauma and unresolved grief. Davis gives a potent portrayal of a woman sliding into madness; the child actor who plays Samuel is unnervingly convincing. The
Babadook is guaranteed to have you looking under the bed.
7. The Lego Movie
"Everything was awesome" in Chris Miller and Phil Lord's The Lego Movie, which faced the bias of critics who initially viewed it as yet another toy-to-movie franchise money grab. Ordinary Lego figure Emmet (Chris Pratt) is mistaken for the Master Builder, the only one who can overthrow tyrant Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Along with Batman, Green Lantern and Abe Lincoln, Emmet bumbles through a (star-studded) rescue mission, with hilarious results. Packed with puns, on-point satire and a wow factor absent from recent kids' films, The Lego Movie was a standout.
One of the most interesting flicks of the year was Snowpiercer, a futuristic action thriller with a decidedly art-house vibe, from director Bong Joon-ho (The Host). In the near future, and 17 years after an experiment to curb global warming has gone awry, the lone survivors of the planet huddle together in a perpetually moving train, circling an icy globe. The masses are crammed in the back, eating dubious gelatin bricks while the well-to-do eat sushi and get massages in the front cars. The film
boasts a great cast (Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris), thrilling production design (with a nod to Terry Gilliam), and a dose of superbly choreographed violence. It's an ever-changing spectacle, and one wild ride.
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
A trigger-happy raccoon. A talking tree. A green heroine. On paper, it didn't have the makings of a top-10 contender. Guardians, however, proved to be one of the most entertaining films of the year, breathing new life into the superhero genre, which was, frankly, taking itself too seriously. Chris Pratt (The Lego Movie) again stars as a reluctant hero, accompanied by a motley posse of do-gooders (Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel et al) wise-cracking their way through the universe.
10. Force Majeure
Ruben Ostlund asks an uncomfortable question in his Force Majeure: when push comes to shove, is your mate up to the task of protecting the family? Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) finds out just what her workaholic husband Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) is made of during a ski holiday in the French Alps. When an avalanche threatens, Tomas bolts, leaving Ebba to save their two children. Ostlund's white-out alpine scenery is both breathtaking and foreboding. Much of the film occurs in near-silence, though the body language of an emasculated Tomas and a disappointed Ebba speaks volumes. Expect the debate about responsibility, family and gender roles to continue long after you leave the theatre.
Erin McPhee’s Top 10 Albums: http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/music/st-vincent-connects-with-latest-release-1.1662816
John Goodman’s Top 10 Albums: http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/music/sharon-van-etten-delivers-stellar-set-in-top-album-of-2014-1.1663119
Terry Peters’ Top 10 Books: http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/books/year-in-review-ten-titles-worthy-of-your-attention-1.1662819
John Goodman’s Top 10 Books: http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/books/year-in-review-study-celebrates-centennial-of-e-s-curtis-project-1.1663835
John Goodman’s Top 10 Films: http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/film/year-in-review-godard-keeps-things-interesting-in-3d-1.1663866